English Language

Formal Language - An Introduction + An Example Analysis

by
Lisa Tran

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Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...

Hey all! As we approach the end of Unit 3 AOS 1 (informal language), that means we now approach the start of Unit 3 AOS 2 (formal language). With holidays being one week away, it's now a good time to do some reflection and self assessment:

  • What went well this term?
  • What didn't go so well this term?
  • How will I improve on these weaknesses next term and beyond?
  • Did I make use of study time effectively and have I developed good study habits?

It's also a great time to have some time to yourself. Some of the highest-scoring graduates were adamant on having time off during the holidays.

Now, with regards to formal language, it's also a good time to start preparing yourself for your assessments in term 2. I'd highly recommend going through the section dedicated to Unit 3 AOS 2 in the STUDY DESIGN and highlighting all key information and keywords. This will give you a massive competitive advantage and the document can be found here: http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/vce/englishlanguage/EnglishLanguageSD_2016.pdf

Before continuing, I'd also highly recommend you read my article here on formal language and a defintion + features of it: http://www.vcestudyguides.com/unit-3-aos-2-what-exactly-is-formal-language-and-what-are-its-purposes

Now, the main purpose of this article today is to explain to you how the information in the above article corresponds with real, everyday examples of formal language. As I went to pay for my VicRoads rego for my car, I realised that the letter was written with formal language and thought this would be perfect for you all! I've only cut out a certain segment of the letter, namely the information about concession card holders, and the various rules and regulations on concession payments. I personally believe the outline these rules in full force to prevent payees from taking advantage of any possible loopholes and paying a discounted amount (when they are not entitled to it). See the complete image below and make sure you read through the entire piece. Apologies for the lack of line numbers as this is a photo taken by my phone.

Formal-Vic-Roads

Make sure you watch my video below too as I explain all of the features above (and this might help with your understanding).

Below I have summarised the main formal linguistic features. By no means is this complete, but these are the ones that really stand out to me. If you have any other features that you think would be noteworthy, please do let me know.

  • The function of this text is to inform VicRoads customers about the terms and conditions surrounding concession cardholders. The wider social purpose would be to ultimately prevent any customers from exploiting any loopholes (i.e. to prevent those who want to pay less, because concession cardholders pay a smaller fee).
  • Subsystem of Lexicology:
  • Modal Verbs. I noticed a frequent use of modal verbs, which ultimately help to indicate modality – that is, likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation. These ultimately help to provide specificity of meaning to customers.
  • Uncontracted verbs. I noticed that to ensure precise communication and unambiguity, the author uses uncontracted verb forms such as 'cannot' and 'you are'.
  • Elevated lexis (fancy-sounding words). You'll notice that much of the lexicon evident comes from Latin/French. This helps to give the text a serious and official tone; that is, a tone of authority and expertise. Examples include 'concession', 'entitlements' and 'request'.
  • With regards to 'request', you'll notice that VicRoads uses this lexeme instead of 'demand' or even 'ask'. Why? It's simple. 'Request' allows VicRoads to appeal to your negative face needs and not impose on your freedom. Always remember that money can be construed as a 'taboo topic' in many societies, so when asking for payment, many companies and governments will use less forceful language to appeal to negative face needs.
  • Subsystem of Syntax:
  • Passives & Agentless Passives. Under the 'Short Fees' paragraph, you'll notice this entire paragraph sounds 'formal'. But, what exactly does formal even mean here? Have a look at the first clause of the sentence "...if paid before or on the registration...". This is an example of an agentless passive whereby the agent has been omitted (if paid by who?). This helps to create a distant tone between the author and the audience, thereby depersonalising the text.
  • Nominalisation. Like agentless passive, nominalisations also create a distant tone by omitting the subject. Looking at that same paragraph, you'll notice the first clause says '...is not valid on payment of the fee...'. Payment in this case is a nominalisation (verb to noun), whereby the verb 'pay' has been converted to a noun 'payment'. This helps to remove the subject as it is already inferred, but also makes the text seem more condensed by omitting unnecessary or inferred parts of the sentence.
  • Compound-Complex Sentence Structures. In formal documents, particularly legal documents, 'long sentence' (compound-complex sentence structures) are very common. Why? This  asserts that by packaging content so close together, it therefore allows the author to show clarity of information by displaying the relationship between ideas. It also elevates a writer's credibility. In our same paragraph example as above, you'll notice this entire paragraph is actually one sentence, particularly a compound-complex sentence structure. You'll notice that the main reason for this being this sentence structure is because it allows the author to show the various conditions of payment (i.e. if you pay at this date etc.), to again ensure CLARITY of information - so there is no ambiguity regarding when payment should be made. This therefore ties back nicely to the function, being to inform. More info on this sentence structure can be found here: http://grammar.about.com/od/c/g/comcomplexterm.htm
  • Discourse
  • For the purposes of ensuring you get practice, I will only discuss coherence. For homework, I'd recommend you try and find cohesive devices between different parts of the text as well as within each paragraph. You can read more about coherence and cohesion here.
  • With regards to coherence, you'll notice that the use of formatting allows for the author to highlight key information (e.g rules about concession cardholders uses dot points). Subtitles also help the author to highlight more key information (like I have done in this article!).

Well there you have it guys! I hope this helps out :) As I said, it's not complete - but that's the whole point! Test and challenge yourself, and try to find more features to add to the list above.

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